What Caregivers Need to Know About Aging and Mental Health

Depression and anxiety are increasing in the senior population. According to the American Psychological Association1 (APA), 20.4 percent of adults aged 65 and older “met criteria for a mental disorder”, including dementia. More than 50 percent of residents in senior facilities have some form of cognitive impairment, and many nursing home patients have personality disorders exacerbated by chronic health problems. It is a complex problem that caregivers need to be aware of in order to help their loved ones get appropriate treatment.

Seniors can suffer from anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse and mental health care issues that are made worse by chronic disease and multiple health issues. For some of them a life changing illness, having to move out of the family home, the loss of a spouse and other traumatic events can cause depression. The symptoms can be overlooked by providers because seniors seek health care for other conditions and often don’t report their depressive symptoms. However, if caregivers are aware of these problems and learn the signs and symptoms of mental health issues they can help their loved ones to get proper treatment.

Seniors may not seek mental health support

Current statistics show that for a variety of reasons, seniors are less like to receive mental health services:

  • Inadequate insurance coverage
  • A shortage of trained geriatric mental health providers
  • Denial of problems
  • Access
  • Unwillingness to admit problems
  • Lack of coordination among various providers

Keep reading: ‘Mental health and older adults’

The state of anxiety, depression, and suicide among seniors

The APA lists rather startling statistics about the state of mental health in seniors.

  • 15-20 percent of older adults in the United States have experienced depression.
  • Approximately 11 percent of older adults have anxiety disorders.
  • Depression is a major risk factor for suicide. In 2006, 14.22 of every 100,000 people age 65 and over died by suicide, higher than the rate of 11.16 per 100,000 in the general population.
  • Non-Hispanic white men age 85 and over are at the greatest risk for suicide, with a rate of 49.8 suicide deaths per 100,000.
  • People with dementia often suffer from depression, paranoia, and anxiety.

Depression and other mental health issues can adversely impact a senior’s physical health as well. The APA says “Even mild depression lowers immunity and may compromise a person’s ability to fight infections and cancers.” It can also impact a senior’s ability to cope with heart disease and other conditions.

Learn more: ‘Five signs of mental health decline in older adults’

As mental health issues rise, so does substance abuse.

As life changes and loved ones pass away seniors may turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with grief, loneliness, and isolation. If you notice a loved one drinking more or exhibiting the symptoms of substance abuse, try to identify the underlying causes. That information will help you to obtain the most effective treatment for them.

  • In 2010, at least 5.6 to 8 million older adults had one or more mental health/substance use conditions.
  • Illicit drug use nearly doubled among people age 50-59 between 2002 and 2007, (5.1 percent to 9.4 percent).
  • It’s estimated that the number of older adults in need of substance abuse will increase from 1.7 million in 2000 and 2001 to 4.4 million in 2020.

Keep reading: ‘Five common symptoms of mental illness in seniors’

What treatment should you seek?

Psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors are trained to help people recover from, and cope with, depression and anxiety. Some specialize in treating older adults, a field called geropsychology. These specialized psychologists understand the aging process and can help seniors and their families cope with life’s problems in order to live a life of maximum well-being.

When you seek help for a senior loved one who is struggling with mental health issues, look for a mental health professional who can use different types of psychotherapies, counseling, education, and medications. You want someone who can teach your loved one to use coping strategies and stress reduction techniques.

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Identifying the symptoms of mental illness is the first step in finding effective treatment so that your loved one can age well.

1:APA – Mental Health

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